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Book III
Chapter III

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
John Buchan

published by
Hodder and Stoughton
London 1937

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book IV
Chapter II

Book IV: Pater Patriae

 p195  Chapter I

The Complete Principate

It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its existence in great emergencies.

Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 10, 1864.

The principate was now in substance complete, and it is our business to examine in more detail the structure as it left Augustus's hands. We must therefore anticipate a little and include the modifications which he introduced up to the end of his life. Since it was an organic thing, framed to permit of growth, it is necessary to be clear as to its various elements. There were parts which remained intact so long as the empire endured. There were parts which he deliberately left fluid to change as conditions might change. There were principles which he believed would last and which were to alter for the better and there were elements which he held not less essential, and which were to be altered for the worse.


The huge mechanism was, as we have seen, based upon two principles which lay deep in Rome's history. The first was that the People were sovereign, the sole fount of power; the second, that this power was delegated, in the shape of an imperium, to a magistrate, and that in an emergency such a delegation might be all‑embracing and universal. If the emergency seemed to the People to be a permanent thing, then the authority delegated would be perpetual. But at the most it could not persist beyond the life of such a magistrate. On his death it must return to the People and be freshly conferred; it could not be transmitted directly from person to person; it must preserve  p196 the character of a special commission. The principate, as Augustus conceived it, was, to begin with, mainly an interweaving of existing institutions, with all their traditional authority and historic appeal. He must have foreseen that some of these institutions would prove feeble stuff, and that others would take a different colour in the new fabric; but at the start the materials must be familiar. Novelty would lie in the pattern.

But even more vital than the elements of the constitution was the central control. The speech which Dio​1 puts into the mouth of Maecenas at the beginning of the principate goes to the heart of the matter. "Our city, like a great merchantman manned with a crew of every race and lacking a pilot, has now for many generations been rolling and plunging as it has drifted this way and that in a heavy sea, a ship without ballast." Certain structural changes in the vessel were required, and a more expert crew, but the crying need was a pilot. What Galba, in 69 A.D., adopted a successor he stated what had come to be accepted doctrine. "If the immense body of the empire could stand and keep its balance without anyone to control it, then I would gladly restore the Republic. As it is, things have long come to such a pass that my old age can give the Roman people no better gift than a good successor, nor your youth anything better than a good emperor."2

A Princeps deriving his mandate from Senate and People; and a mandate which could be revoked and which therefore entailed the duty of governing in accordance with popular opinion — such was Augustus's conception of a system which would be the Republic made practically efficient and adapted to the needs of empire. He saw clearly the dangers. If a temporary and provisional office were made permanent, as it must be, there was always a risk of it drifting into something like a monarchy, and of the first citizen becoming a master and not a leader. When Pliny and Dio Chrysostom lectured Trajan on politics, they stressed the difference between "dominatio" and "principatus."​3 For the defect of  p197 the principate — its defect and also its strength — was that it could not be fully expressed in any code of law or body of institutions; it was rather in the nature of a general conception, the content of which must be left to each Princeps to determine for himself. Augustus interpreted it in one way; a successor might interpret it in another, and seek to be a god‑king like Caligula, or a tyrant like Domitian. Fate was to drift it gradually towards monarchy, so that with Commodus the word "dominus" could be used of the Princeps, and with Diocletian it became an official title. Yet so strong was the personal prestige of Augustus that he was able to establish a tradition which, while it might lapse in a Nero, a Domitian or a Commodus, could be restored by the great Flavians and Antonines.

The principate being so fluid a thing, the question of the succession was of supreme importance. He could, of course, lay down no permanent law, but he could make provision for his own successor, and thereby create a precedent. Mere popular election was impossible, and Rome would not accept the hereditary monarchy of which Julius had dreamed. The plan which Augustus devised was to select a colleague who received the proconsular imperium and the tribunician power, and who, since he understood the whole mechanism of government, would inevitably succeed him, unless the civic fabric dissolved altogether. He chose Agrippa for this purpose, and, after his death, Tiberius. But he not unnaturally hankered after a successor who would perpetuate his blood and the Julian family tradition.​4 There was some justification for this view. Under the Republic son had often succeeded father in office; the family always meant much to Rome; the prestige of the Julian house was great and his own "auctoritas" colossal, and these would provide powerful sanctions for any new Princeps. Moreover, the army, which in the last resort was omnipotent, had a partiality for his race. So first Marcellus and then Gaius and Lucius were selected as his ultimate heirs, and it was only when there were no males  p198 left of his blood that he fell back upon his adopted son, Tiberius.

The drawbacks to this quasi-hereditary system are obvious, and that he should have accepted it was one of his rare blunders. It provided no protection against a Caligula, a Nero, a Domitian or a Commodus. If the nominal successor were not the strongest man in the state, there would be a perpetual temptation for such an one, if he existed, to aspire himself to the throne; for a Princeps could not always count upon the selflessness which Augustus found in Agrippa, and Vespasian in Mucianus. It worked well enough at his death, since Tiberius was the ablest man in the empire, but later it provided a lunatic in Caligula, a loutish pedant in Claudius, and a monster in Nero. Galba broke away from it by his nomination of Piso Licinianus, but the family compact returned with the Flavians. After Domitian came a better system which flung the principate open to the best men and produced great emperors like Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. The last introduced the custom of appointing in his lifetime not a lieutenant, but a colleague, so that at his death the succession was already determined. After him there was a return to the dynastic fashion, varied by occasional lucky pretenders, until it culminated in the fourth-century system of two Augusti.


Rome was the heart and pulse of the empire, the citadel of which Italy was the glacis, and on its well-being hung the future of the civilized world. Its citizens were a ruling class, the People from whom the Princeps derived his mandate, and who must provide the staff for imperial administration. Our first question is, Who were the Roman citizens? To begin with, the free inhabitants of Italy; but citizen­ship in the nature of things must expand, and through his imperium the princeps had the right of conferring it, both in its complete form and in the modified version known as the Latin status. Julius had  p199 been very free with the franchise. His colonizing activities made that inevitable, but he also dreamed of an empire which would be one great Rome, and of which all free men would be citizens. The extent of his grants may be judged from the fact that in 70 B.C. there were only 450,000 on the civic roll,​5 while forty‑two years later, at the first census of Augustus, there were 4,063,000. The meagreness of the grants of Augustus is witnessed by the number at his last census, held forty‑one years later, which was 4,937,000,​6 an increase little more than the natural increment.

Conservative sentiment, no doubt, had a part in this policy, for he was in strong reaction against Julius's ideal of a uniform empire. But there were also weighty reasons of statecraft to influence him. The integration of Italy was not complete; when he began his rule the peninsula had only been incorporated with Rome for twenty years, and it was very necessary to foster Italian patriotism and self-respect. In Cicero's day the Italian provincial was at a discount compared with the metropolitan; it was essential to remove this stigma, and that could only be done by making the new metropolitan status of all Italy likewise a privileged thing. Again, there was a financial reason — citizen­ship meant freedom from certain taxes; there was a military reason — the prospect of the franchise was an inducement to the overseas provincials to serve in the army. Most important of all, his scheme of romanization was largely based upon urbanizing the provinces, and Augustus was resolved to do nothing to lower the pride of the provincial cities. He did not wish to cheapen the citizen­ship of Lyons by making too many of its people citizens of Rome. His conception of the Roman citizen­ship was as a thing wholly different from the exclusive citizen­ship of fifth-century Greece, a thing which was compatible with loyal member­ship of a lesser municipal unit, a thing complementary, inclusive and imperial,​7 and to such an idea the world would take a little time to become accustomed.

 p200  The conservatism of Augustus was therefore an expedient to serve an immediate purpose. Of its reality there is no doubt. He refused to grant the citizen­ship to a Greek protégé of Tiberius unless the man appeared before him in person and convinced him of his worthiness. He declined Livia's request on behalf of a Gaul, offering instead to let him go tax‑free, since the loss to the exchequer was preferable to the prostitution of the Roman dignity.​8 In the testament left at his death he enjoined his successor not to create too many new citizens, since Rome must be exalted among the subject peoples.​9 But he was aware that the time would come when this exclusiveness would have served its purpose, and the advice which Dio puts into the mouth of Maecenas — to make all free men within the empire citizens of Rome — would become practical politics. With Claudius more liberal ideas prevailed; under him the number of citizens grew to almost six millions.​10 The conception of a dual citizen­ship, local and imperial, had, by the time of the Antonines, become an accepted thing. The orator, Aelius Aristides, could declare that "the empire is a city made up of cities," and that "what each city is to its own land that Rome is to the whole world"; and Marcus Aurelius turned the same formula into a mystical vision of human society — "Man is the citizen of a Supreme City in which the other cities are like houses."​11 Half a century later the edict of Caracalla conferred citizen­ship upon all free men within the empire. It was in the dark days of the fifth century that a Gaul, Sidonius Apollinaris, summed up in a famous phrase this great enfranchisement. "Rome," he said, "is the city where no man is an alien save the barbarian and the slave."

In examining the social structure of that it is well to remind ourselves that the division was by classes and not by castes. A man, if he were fortunate, could pass  p201 freely to a higher rank. The aristocracy was one of office not of blood; he who served the state in a high post ennobled his descendants. By this channel the middle classes, the equestrian order, passed readily into the senatorian, while they in turn were constantly recruited from the third estate of the plebs.

Slavery At the bottom lay that canker of the old world, slavery. The wars of Rome during her great period of expansion had filled the city and the country districts with slaves, most of them from races of a high civilization. In a rich family there were men and women skilled in every task from the most menial to the most expert. There was no need for a Roman to go outside his household for any craftsman. Slaves were secretaries, copyists and accountants; carpenters, metal-workers, jewellers, weavers and plumbers; cooks, bakers and coiffeurs; managers of country estates as well as rural labourers; painters, artists and builders; physicians, surgeons and oculists. Their economic value put a certain bridle upon a master's caprice, but their position was always precarious. They could be flogged or branded at their master's will, in a criminal trial their evidence was given under torture, and strict limits were set to their acquisition of property. It was the fashion to expose a sick slave in the temple of Aesculapius on an island in the Tiber, and leave his recovery to chance. Towards the close of the Republic a more humane attitude was appearing, due largely to the Stoic doctrine of the brotherhood of man, and this developed fast in the early empire.​12 Augustus took the lead in the matter. He set his face against senseless brutality to slaves,​13 and their wholesale punishment in the case of the death of an unpopular master.14

The question of their manumission forced itself early on his attention. The close of the wars of conquest had greatly lessened the flow of slaves from abroad, but their numbers were kept up by those bred in Rome, and many still arrived in the ordinary way of trade. This latter  p202 supply was of a different type from the earlier: those had been either of kindred races to the Romans, or of a not inferior culture; these were often of barbarian stock and of uncouth traditions. It was impossible, even if he had so desired, to restrict the increase of slaves, but he set himself to regulate their admission into the free life of the city, for otherwise Rome would soon become a polyglot rabble. Manumission was getting too popular and too simple, and there was no security for the good character of those set free.​15 Formal manumission, conferring full citizen­ship, required a process before a magistrate and the payment of dues; but there was an easy and inexpensive kind of informal manumission by mere declaration, which gave the substance of liberty. By a series of laws Augustus checked this abuse. A law of 17 B.C.16 gave a legal position to slaves informally manumitted and made their children free-born, but drastically restrained their power to acquire and bequeath property. In 2 B.C. he put a limit to the number of slaves whom a master might free by his will,​17 and four years later he severely restricted a master's right to liberate during his life. Slaves who had anything against their character were subjected, after manumission, to heavy disabilities,​18 and gained nothing but their personal freedom. The result of these measures was to keep the freedman class within reasonable bounds. For the rest it was a class to which Augustus showed himself well disposed. He permitted freedmen to hold high rank in the fleets and to serve in the city police and fire brigades; he conferred equestrian rank on distinguished freedmen, like his physician Antonius Musa; he made a freedman, Licinus, his procurator in Gaul with disastrous results, and from freedmen he drew his private secretaries.

What of the dwindling free-born population of Rome? The day had long gone of the stalwart burghers who had won the battle with the patricians and had been the  p203 mainstay of Roman arms. They had fought and died in the wars of conquest; many were settled in colonies throughout the empire; some, no doubt, driven by slave competition, had disappeared into the wilds like the "poor whites" in the American South;​19 too many had sunk into the pauperized urban mob. Their quality as well as their numbers had declined, for there is a Gresham's Law for human society as for currency, and servile labour ousts free labour. The higher industries of the empire were staffed by freedmen and the lower by slaves.​20 What, indeed, was there for the Roman workman to do when every avenue was blocked to him, even the humblest, by men who had behind them the patronage of the rich? He could seek a patron, but most patrons were already pledged to their freedmen, and the merry days had gone when he was of some public importance and could enlist under the banner of a Clodius or a Milo. Now he mattered little to the state, except as a potential source of unrest.

Augustus was alive to the problem and not unsympathetic. He was not prepared to dismiss those humble fellow-citizens contemptuously as the "cesspool of Romulus" or the "rabble of Remus." His legislation on manumission was designed to create a greater demand for free labour. Rome always accepted the duty of the state to relieve destitution, and he increased the maximum of those entitled to free corn.º21 Apart from the regular doles he gave special gifts of food and money, and for this purpose seems to have spent in the first twenty-seven years of his rule something like £400,000.​22 Two other steps he took with a view to giving the Roman plebs duties as well as rights. One was his division of the city into districts (regiones) and municipal boroughs (vici), and the provision in the latter of some kind of elective local government. It was not a very  p204 successful attempt, but it reveals his desire to give the populace a direct interest in public affairs. A second step was to try to find a substitute for the old rowdy political clubs by the development of the trade guilds (collegia). These had been largely suppressed by the Senate in 63 B.C., and all but a few had been dissolved by Julius after his need of them had gone; but they had come to life again and required watching. As the holder of the tribunician power, Augustus regarded himself as the protector of the poor. He sought to encourage the guilds, to amend them, and also to control them, for no activity must be outside the pale of the integrated state at which he aimed.​23 He therefore decreed that every guild must be licensed, and be to some extent under government supervision. They were strictly benefit societies and not trade unions, for slave labour made the latter impossible. A strike in Rome would have been the idlest folly.

With the decline of the Assemblies the political importance and interest of the Roman poor had vanished. Augustus, true to his wish to give all classes an organic function in the state, would fain have revised these within limits. As it was, the Assemblies were like the Accession Council​24 in Britain, which derives from the old Witan — an antiquarian relic without serious functions. The Assembly of the Curies had become a farce, and no one wanted to restore the Assembly of the Centuries; but at the outset it looked as if something might be done with the Assembly of the Tribes. Julius apparently had thought to revive it, if we may judge from his provision of a new meeting-place in the Saepta Julia, and a grant of citizen­ship to a provincial by Octavian in his second triumvirate is so phrased as to suggest that the franchise would be exercised in the Assembly at Rome. The difficulty was time and distance. As things stood, only members of the urban tribes were able to vote, and the voice of the People was only the voice of its least worthy part. Augustus himself wished, for very obvious reasons, to revive the Assembly, and restore to it, within limits,  p205 its ancient elective and legislative rights.​25 He devised a scheme by which the votes of members of municipal senates in the Italian country towns could be forwarded in ballot boxes to Rome and counted along with the urban votes.​26 But the thing was still-born, partly no doubt because of the technical difficulties, and partly because Rome at the moment was undergoing a conservative reaction and had no inclination for novelties. The practical obstacle might have been got over by some method of representation, but it is curious how alien the whole representative conception was to the ancient world.​27 Burke's famous doctrine would have seemed to it wholly unintelligible. It understood delegation, but the conception of one man appointed to think and decide for a multitude, because he was typical of their modes of thought and so had their confidence, was remote from its political philosophy. The task awaits some scholar of investigating the way in which the representative idea entered the world. It owed something to the Christian church, and more to the tribal habits of the northern races. Lacking it, constitutional government in the modern sense was impossible.

The Assembly slowly lapsed into desuetude. Nominally it approved elections, but it was only a formal assent, and Tiberius, in the first year of his rule, transferred even this slender prerogative to the Senate.​28 Augustus began by using it as a legislative body, but as he grew older he dropped the habit; in the first twenty years of his principate it passed twenty‑one laws, but in the second twenty years only four. The Saepta Julia, inaugurated with so much pomp, drifted into a kind of zoological gardens, where gladiatorial shows were held, and on one occasion a rhinoceros was housed. A kind of Assembly did indeed continue for nearly three centuries, when the People were solemnly summoned under the old  p206 republican forms to ratify some power of the Princeps, and the red flag flew from the Janiculum,​a but it was a shadow of a shadow. This particular bit of republican technique Augustus had perforce to abandon. The People could still make their will felt, but it was by mass agitation and not by legal process.​29 The popular element in the principate lay in the tribunician power of the Princeps. The true successor of the Assembly was the new army, and such the Assembly had been in the beginning.

Above the plebs came the middle class, which was roughly identical with the equestrian order. It was a mixed body, for in its social character it included many who did not possess the gold ring of the knight; poets, philosophers, and men of letters were admitted to it as gentlemen by courtesy. On one side it was like the unennobled gentry of England, for some of the equestrian families could boast of long descent. On another it represented the self-made men who had made fortunes by commerce or banking and were on the fringe of the aristocracy.

The rehabilitation of this order was one of Augustus's principal and most lasting achievements. He looked upon it not, like Gaius Gracchus, as a political makeweight, or, like Julius, as a plutocracy which could be milked, but as a social grade of high value from which he could draw the staffs of the army and the chief civil servants. To enter the class a man had to be free-born and of good character, to possess a fortune of from three to four thousand pounds, and to receive a specific grant from the Princeps. He need not be domiciled in Rome or in Italy, and the emphasis laid on the order was one of the forces making for imperial unity. For Augustus this great middle class was a special care. He laid stress upon its military character, and himself took the salute on horseback at the parade of the knights each July. A legate of a legion must be a senator, but the tribunes were knights, and a centurion attained the rank on his discharge. A young man of the order might rise to command  p207 the Household Brigade, govern an imperial province, like Noricum, Rhaetia or Mauretania, or in Rome control the corn supply and command the city police. Above all, he might aspire to be viceroy of Egypt. If the knights lost their old privilege of farming the taxes, they were given all the principal financial posts in the empire. Wherever the personal interest of the Princeps was concerned, the official was a knight. The order therefore became not only the exploiters of the rapidly growing commerce of Rome, but the principal source from which the imperial bureaucracy was drawn. It was a wise provision, for the middle classes were the strongest stock in the Roman world. Unlike the aristocracy, they had no violent class pride which stereotyped their character. They were continually being recruited from below, and in turn provided recruits for the Senate. They offered to able youth a brilliant career, and they had the vitality of men with a horizon and the realism of men who were the architects of their own fortunes. More than any other class they still possessed the tough virtues which had made the Roman state. The history of the principate is the history of the steady advance of the knights until they ousted freedmen from the emperor's cabinet and had all the strings of administration in their hands. The empire at its most prosperous stage was ruled by the upper middle class.

At the top of the social fabric was the senatorian aristocracy. This was no longer the Optimates whose power Julius had challenged. The famous old houses were fast dying of exhaustion. The oligarchy, which, in the name of liberty and the Republic, had fought to retain its exclusive powers, had crumbled by the inexorable laws of nature. It was the policy of Augustus to cherish what was left of that historic blood, and by grants of money to enable the poorer members to sustain their rank.​30 But meantime the enrichment of the Senate by promotion from the lower orders enabled him to build up a new nobility, and by his censorian power he could  p208 insist upon a standard of quality. Early in his rule he had been empowered to create new patrician families. This policy was continued by his successors until the patriciate drew recruits widely from the Italian and provincial bourgeoisie and from the army commanders. Vespasian first brought in provincials, and among those whom he admitted were men like Trajan and Agricola. Of this nobility the Princeps was an ordinary member, for Augustus set his face against the creation of a royal caste. His distinction lay in office, not in rank. The senators were his peers, his colleagues;​31 never, like the equestrian procurators, his servants.


On this social basis was raised the fabric of the principate. The Senate is the first part of the structure to be considered. Here the task of Augustus was less creative than conservation. He extended its bounds by his "adlectio," the admitting of competent men who had not yet attained nobility through office, but that was no more than what the popular party in the Republic had always demanded. Its old position as supreme authority in the state had indeed gone, but that had been surrendered of its own volition, since the task of government had grown beyond its powers. To Augustus it was vital to preserve the Senate's dignity, since it was the chief bridge with the past, the only body which represented the continuing identity of the Roman state, and whose members had some experience of public service. In the division of functions, as we have seen, he left it a great part to play. It administered a large number of the provinces; its members held the highest official posts; it had charge of the public finances; it had replaced the Assembly as a legislative authority; it had extensive judicial powers. Its real sovereignty was gone, since it had no longer the command of the armies, but it was given many rights and duties unknown to its republican counterpart. Augustus sought to make of it a true colleague  p209 and in every way to enhance its prestige and dignity. As we have seen, he had large powers of determining its constitution and controlling its debates, but he wished to keep those powers in the background, and to let the Senate freely deliberate and decide. He sincerely wanted assistance in his immense task, and above all he laboured through the Senate to keep in close touch with educated opinion. While his health allowed him, he attended its meetings in person, he gave his own view last in a debate, lest he should influence a decision unfairly, and he did not mind heckling or even rudeness.32

The partner­ship was not destined to succeed. The relations between Senate and Princeps were to vary during the empire; they were bad under Caligula, Nero and Domitian, reasonably good under discreet men like Vespasian, Hadrian and the Antonines, but never truly cordial. A Princeps could find individual senators loyal colleagues, but not the Senate. For this there were two reasons. The body had lost corporate vitality, like the nobility itself; its members were no longer the stern kings who had stricken into silence the invading Gauls. They were inclined to be captious and childish, and to shirk their duties. In order to secure a full house Augustus had been forced, as early as 29 B.C., to forbid senators to leave Italy without his permission. In 17 B.C., and again in 11 B.C., he had to increase the fines for non‑attendance. He stopped the publication of its minutes, which Julius had inaugurated, no doubt in order that the world should not see the nakedness of the land. The second reason was that, even had the Senate been dutiful and competent, its legal supremacy was bound to be impaired by the practical efficiency of the Princeps. It had, in theory at least, a voice in foreign policy, and Augustus on various occasions referred such questions to it, but, since he controlled the armies, the decision must rest with him, and the Senate was compelled to turn the matters back on his hands.​33 It had new and enlarged judicial functions, but the Princeps had the right to remove any case from its jurisdiction to his own. It was  p210 the normal legislative body, but, when in an hour of panic it gave him the power to issue edicts, it paved the way for a new type of law‑making, which was far simpler and speedier than the old clumsy methods. No Princeps claimed legislative powers before Hadrian, but from Augustus onward they made both administrative and private law.​34 An executive authority must have some rapid means of making rules for emergencies. Augustus, too, owing to the difficulty of getting a full Senate, was forced to make use of a privy council,​35 and, with succeeding emperors, this tended to be less a committee of senators than a cabinet of friends. The decisions of this camarilla were given the validity of senatorian decrees.​36 Had the Senate been of higher quality it would still have found it hard to preserve its status in the face of the multitude of executive tasks which the Princeps alone could perform. As it was, it became more and more a dignified anachronism, peevish if unskilfully handled, tractable under a discreet Princeps, but with no inherit power of initiation or resistance. It is not without significance that Augustus, in the first of the Cyrene Edicts, speaks of "the Senate and I" and in the last of "I and the Senate."37

The republican magistrates — consuls, tribunes, praetors, aediles and quaestors — continued in their traditional functions. The principal changes made by Augustus in the hierarchy of office was that any man with ambitions for the public service must begin in the army, and that  p211 before holding the quaestor­ship he must have filled one of the twenty minor urban posts. The elections nominally lay with the Assembly, but, by his right of nomination and commendation, he could secure the success of any candidate. In general he held strictly to the rule that the highest dignities could only be obtained through the traditional sequence. It was not always easy to find candidates for some of the offices because of the poverty or the slackness of the senatorian class, and Augustus was more than once forced to exercise compulsion.​38 A busybody like Claudius further depressed the status of the republican magistracy, for, says Tacitus, "he attracted all the functions of the laws and magistrates to himself."​39 The existence of the imperium of the Princeps in Rome itself tended to make the magistrates increasingly dependent upon him, and the new civil service took away many of their tasks. The praetor­ship, for example, lost some of its duties to special commissions, which worked under the eye of the Princeps, and which handled the chief urban services, like the corn supply, the water supply, and the care of the streets. Augustus had discovered that useful person, the professional committeeman.

The one office which he tried to keep sacrosanct and make the goal of ambition was the consul­ship; but in order to have enough consulars for high posts he was forced to increase their number by the system of "consules suffecti,' who held office only for a few months, so that in any one year there might be four or five consuls. After A.D. 2 this became the regular custom. The office was given dignity from its frequent tenure by the Princeps: Augustus held it thirteen times, Tiberius five, Caligula four, Claudius and Nero five each, while Vespasian and his sons had twenty‑one consul­ships between them. Caligula and Nero might set themselves to degrade the office,​40 but the wiser emperors treated it with respect. But no antiquarian zeal could keep the consul­ship  p212 alive, and it survived in the fourth century only as a municipal dignity. Republican magistracies were killed in the long run by the wider scope and the greater efficiency of the imperial service.

The administration of Rome had become a major problem, for which Augustus made special provision. His work in this sphere was indeed one of his chief successes. "In the Rome of Augustus, not less than in the London of to‑day, there was need of non‑political bodies capable of dealing with the practical problems of local government. . . . He did not, indeed, create a city-council independent of the Senate, but by the end of his reign all the departments of local administration were in experienced hands, and Rome was a healthier and more peaceful city than she probably had been at any period of her history."​41 He gave her superb public buildings — temples, baths, libraries and places of assembly; he gave her an efficient police and a vigilant fire brigade; he pulled down slums and supervised new building areas; he protected her from the Tiber's floods; he saw to it that she should never want for bread. Above all, he gave her civic pride. He taught her his own creed of a world where the Latin culture should be universal, with Rome herself as the source and guardian of this proud tradition, a city "with no peer and no second."42

Julius, with his Oppius and Balbus, laid the foundations of an imperial secretariat, but it was left to Augustus to extend it into a civil service. This service was gradually to develop into a complex bureaucracy, which became the cement which held the empire together. Augustus laid down the main lines, for he created important posts which could be held by knights and freedmen, and made his own household the centre from which all the wires radiated. Such a change was not unattended by friction, for the imperial secretaries and stewards were regarded with disfavour by the older aristocracy, and, like all bureaucrats, they tended to magnify their office. It was not till Claudius that the service was fully  p213 organized with a secretary-general (ab epistulis), a financial secretary (a rationibus), a petition secretary (a libellis), and a judicial secretary (a cognitionibus), highly skilled freedmen who between them constituted one of the most businesslike bureaus in history. In Hadrian's time knights replaced freedmen in charge of the main departments, but the general organization endured as long as the empire.​43 These men were salaried officials, unlike the republican magistrates, and they were graded in a hierarchy as strict as the old "cursus honorum." They were not, in the modern sense, ministers of state, though they were the executive heads of great departments; they were the personal servants of the Princeps, responsible only to him — a conception which owed something to the Hellenistic monarchies, but more to the old Roman fashion by which the household of a grandee was itself a microcosm of government. The Merovingian kingdoms are another instance of the extension of the methods of a royal household into the administrative fabric of a nation.

Government, for the first time in Roman history, became expert and professional. This was one of the most lasting of Augustus's reforms, and without it Rome and the empire would have lapsed into chaos. The bureaucracy was to change its colouring: with Hadrian it became more closely linked with the army, and acquired a military precision; in the time of Diocletian it had grown so rigid and so intricate that it was an incubus on the empire. The freedmen whom Augustus used may, as administrators, have been less honest, but they were probably more competent and liberal than the retired colonels of a later period. The Augustan system suffered from the defect of all bureaucracies in that in time the machine became so grandiose that officials looked only to its smooth working, and not to the purpose it was meant to serve, the needs of the people. Nevertheless, for several centuries it provided as inexpensive, clean and efficient a government as any empire has ever enjoyed. Gibbon did not exaggerate when he wrote: "If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world  p214 during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would without hesitation name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by arbitrary power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom."44


So much for the fabric; it remains to consider the services built up within it. The Republic had raised its revenues from two main sources: in Italy, from customs dues, rents of public land, and a five per cent tax on manumitted slaves; in the provinces, from various direct taxes on real and personal estate, as well as from rents, customs and mining royalties. Direct taxation was repugnant to the Italian temper, but there had been a little god who gave his countenance to indirect taxes.​45 The republican revenues were not large — Cicero says that of the provinces only Asia paid for its upkeep — and they were most wastefully collected, while the fact that they were in charge of magistrates with short periods of office made a continuous financial policy impossible. On the other hand, the expenses were small in time of peace; there were no social services, no national debt, and most officials served without salary.

Augustus's reconstruction changed all this. Experiments in paternalism, a salaried civil service, much public building, and a long service and better-paid army greatly increased the cost of government. He was forced, therefore, to drastic financial reforms. The system of tax‑farming in the provinces was greatly modified, and all the direct taxes there were collected by his own procurators. An elaborate register of the inhabitants prevented tax‑evasion. In Italy he took a bold step. Frontier wars and the better provision for soldiers' pay and pensions had swollen his military budget, and he  p215 had met this increase at first out of his own pocket, but by 6 A.D. the thing had grown too large for private munificence. He created a special military chest into which he himself paid a sum equivalent to one and a half million sterling, and he laid on Italy two new imposts, death duties and a tax on sales. The upper classes were scandalized, for such direct taxes seemed to them an insult to the Italian people, but they capitulated when Augustus, pointing out that the money must be raised, offered instead to revive the old "tributum" or property tax which had not been levied since 167 B.C. Apart from the army chest, the "aerarium militare," there was the ordinary "aerarium Saturni" or exchequer, nominally under the Senate but really administered by prefects appointed by the Princeps. Into this all revenues, Italian and provincial, were paid, except those earmarked for the military chest. There was also the privy purse ("patrimonium Caesarum"), the property which he had inherited or received by way of legacies, and out of which he made benefactions to the state. He had a special financial office in his house called the "fiscus," where his slaves and freedmen kept exact accounts of the whole finances of the empire. This was a bureau and not, as has been argued, a private treasury which was separate from the exchequer and into which were paid the revenues of Egypt. These, like all other receipts, went to the "aerarium." It was not until later that the "fiscus" acquired the character of an additional treasury.46

The principate was self-supporting, but it clearly was no more. Taxation was not high, and under Augustus  p216 expenses were rigorously scrutinized. Thereafter solvency depended upon the Princeps. Tiberius was frugal, Nero extravagant, the Flavians were parsimonious, while from Trajan onward there was a steady adverse balance, so that Marcus Aurelius was compelled to sell the imperial jewels to raise money for his wars. In the third century came a financial crisis which led to a debased currency, and after that the controls slipped, and the central machine moved steadily toward bankruptcy. In this, as in other things, the success of the Augustan policy depended upon the continuance of the Augustan tradition. In finance he was faithful to his plan of slowly and obliquely winning control by superior efficiency, and not less of getting full value for every denarius expended.

Augustus left to his successors, as a principal maxim of state, an injunction not to extend the area of the empire. This had been his policy from his first accession to power, and he spent his life in the quest of a defensible frontier. For two sides he had no fear, since he had the desert in the South and the Atlantic in the West; but in the East he had a precarious border-line with Parthia, and in the North there were the uncertainties of the Danube and the Rhine. As a consequence this lover of peace had to give much of his time to outland wars, and he made greater additions than Julius to imperial territory. When he died, Egypt, Galatia, Moesia, Pannonia, Rhaetia, Noricum and upper and lower Germany were under the sway of Rome.

On the seas there was no danger. The Romans were not a race of sailors, and the most required of him was to keep the Mediterranean clear of pirates, and occasionally to use a fleet, as Drusus did, to assist a land campaign. He retained part of the navy which fought at Actium, and established naval bases in west and east Italy, at Misenum on the bay of Naples, and at Ravenna near the mouth of the Po.​47 Most of the naval ratings were slaves, though in the time of Claudius we find free provincials  p217 serving; the officers were either freedmen of the Princeps or ex‑legionaries of equestrian rank. Battle­ships had gone out of fashion, and the light galley replaced the trireme.

The army was regarded as primarily a frontier defence force, with police duties in the less settled border provinces. Augustus was little of a soldier, and the legionaries were never "commilitones" to him as they had been to Julius; but he had the statesman's instinct for a strategic danger-point, and he had the gift of choosing able commanders in the field. As we have seen, he linked army commands to civil administration, and, regarding soldiers as citizens and not as mercenaries, he vastly improved their lot. His army was never very large. After Actium it was reduced to not more than twenty-seven legions; under him its normal strength was about 300,000, and probably at no time during the first three centuries of the empire did the total military establishment reach a figure of 450,000. It was recruited for foreign service only, and after the close of the triumvirate there were no legions quartered in Italy until Septimius Severus. Following the example of Julius, Augustus endeavoured to encourage professional skill and esprit de corps and to make the life of the soldier attractive. It was a long-service army, at first for sixteen years and then for twenty; it was raised by voluntary enlistment, except in time of crisis; it was drawn not from Italy only, but from all parts of the empire,​48 and the auxiliary forces came wholly from the provinces. The chief inducements to serve were the pension and the right of citizen­ship which awaited a soldier on his discharge. The pay, too, was adequate, and under Augustus there was no difficulty in finding recruits.49

In addition to the regiments of the line there were  p218 nine regiments of household troops, the "praetorians" who formed the imperial bodyguard and preserved law and order in Italy. They were strictly a bodyguard, and were not liable to active service unless the Princeps, or some member of his family, took the field. They were commanded by two prefects of equestrian rank. This force was the invention of Augustus, though republican precedents could have been found for it, and, while something of the kind was necessary, it was an experiment full of danger for the future. At the start it had no concern with the capital, and order was preserved there by the city police. Augustus was always careful to station only one‑third in Rome, and it was not until Tiberius that all nine cohorts were camped outside the north-east gate — a step, due to the ambition of Sejanus, which was fated to have momentous consequences.

Augustus desired no hard and fast distinction between civil and military life, and therefore insisted upon embryo statesmen serving for some time with the eagles. This valiant non‑professionalism had been well enough in the early days of the Republic, when "the hand had to keep the head" and every man was trained to arms. But now it was an anachronism. The ex‑praetor or ex‑quaestor who, as legate, commanded a legion, was no more than an amateur. Soon military enthusiasm died in the Roman upper classes, while the retention of the army on the frontiers killed the interest in defence among the population at large. The world inside the protected borders became not only unmilitary, but unmartial, and could not defend itself against an invader who had forced the outer lines. Here lay one of the weaknesses of Augustus's army policy. Another was that, though conditions of service were reasonable, discipline was not strictly enforced, and in the officer class there was some corruption.​50 It was an instance of that weakening of the fibre at the centre which was ultimately to destroy the empire.

The strength of the army lay in its non‑commissioned officers, the centurions drawn from the Italian yeomanry.  p219 For the Roman army was still strong, and was to remain for centuries one of the marvels of the world. A vast territory was never more economically garrisoned: twelve hundred men at Lyons kept order throughout the whole of Gaul. Wherever the legions went they spread Roman ideas and the Latin tongue; they were a force of unity in another sense, for the troops were often of the same race as the men they supervised or fought against, and so the gulf was bridged between Roman and barbarian. Famous cities sprang from the field-force canteens which grew up beside their permanent camps. On little but wheaten porridge they faced the suns of the East, the snows and forests of central Europe, and the desolate barrows of the North, and made of the desert a habitable place. For generations their morning reveille was to clank on the world's horizons, and they held the gates of civilization long enough to preserve for the future the most vital part of the bequest of Rome.

Of that bequest law formed a principal part. The Romans as a race had legal genius, and their juristic conceptions, elaborated early in the Republic and codified by the great jurisprudents of the later empire, were the foundation of the law of the mediaeval and modern worlds. This is not the place to attempt a summary of the judicial system of the Republic. It was an intricate structure built up slowly, cell by cell, and if it was clumsy it was comprehensive. Both in civil and criminal cases the ordinary tribunal was the jury courts presided over by the praetors. The praetor, at a preliminary hearing, had to grant a type of action, and new types were invented to meet new circumstances, just as English lawyers in the past had to devise new kinds of writs. Especially, new formulas had to be found for cases where one of the parties was an alien — the beginning of private international law. Criminal procedure up to the time of Sulla is obscure, but we know that he created a variety of criminal courts, each to deal with a special class of crime, and that his system continued under the empire.

The chief of Augustus's changes lay in the judicial  p220 powers now accorded to the Senate and to the Princeps himself. The Senate was the consuls' court which had always claimed jurisdiction in certain cases, but now it was made a regular high court, both of first instance and of appeal. Its importance lay chiefly in criminal cases, especially offences against the state, all that came under the wide heading of "majestas" or treason. In theory there was no appeal from the Senate's verdict, but in practice the Princeps had effective rights of intercession and veto. The Princeps himself could bring cases before the Senate and preside in person, and he could appear and give evidence in the ordinary jury courts, but his real power was in his direct jurisdiction. This covered every penal offence, and could be exercised by his delegates. In theory it was based upon his imperium, and it arose in practice, perhaps, from the necessity of dealing with appeals from the provinces. Two things are to be noted about the whole judicial system. There was no legal process by which a citizen could enforce his rights against the state. There was an elaborate machinery of appeals ending with that to the Princeps himself, but there was no tribunal to judge between the state and the private person, nothing to correspond with the English "action against the Crown." The principate was always judge in its own cause. Again, the jurisdiction of the Princeps was of a different type than any other, being executive rather than judicial, an application of executive power to matters properly justiciable. This gave it great freedom of action, and made it certain, in time, to override every other form of tribunal. The "appeal to Caesar" was to become the cardinal fact in the law of the empire. That Rome accepted it so readily was due perhaps to her traditional preference for judge-made law.51

The new judicial powers of the Princeps were an inevitable growth, as vital to effective government as his army command. In this matter Augustus moved slowly and tactfully. He was no lawyer, and he had not the fussy interest of Claudius in the work of the courts. He had not the wide vision of Julius, who began that codification  p221 of Roman law which was continued by Hadrian and completed by Justinian. His reforming zeal was shown rather than in the lesser methods of procedure. Apart from the creation of his own new tribunal, he enlarged the ordinary jury-lists, so as to provide a wider area of choice, and he made them more democratic by admitting men of small fortune.​52 He made bribery difficult, by preventing any relations between litigant and jurors. To clear the cause-lists he increased the number of days on which the courts sat, and he put a limit on the length of trials.​53 He exercised his special jurisdiction sparingly, taking no more than he could help, and showing himself very ready to delegate to the Senate and the jury courts. He gave evidence at a trial modestly, like an ordinary citizen.​54 He provided legal assistance for all who applied to him, after the traditional custom of the Roman nobles, and he dignified the legal profession by creating a panel of skilled lawyers to advise him. More, that very principle of Julius of a uniform empire, which he had rejected on the political side, he accepted on the legal. He permitted Greeks to sit in judgment as well as Romans,​55 thereby paving the way for an ultimate imperial citizen­ship. The independence of the judiciary, which is an axiom of modern constitutional government, was impossible in the throes of a world-wide reconstruction, but it may be said that Augustus, as a judge, used his supreme executive power in moderation and with due regard to the precepts and conventions of the law.

The economic policy of republican Rome was one of individualism and laissez-faire. In those pleasant days, before the advent of the economist, this was an instinct rather than a reasoned creed. Julius had held a different view. From what we know of his plans it would appear that he meant to give state‑aid to commerce and make it a unifying force throughout the empire. Augustus  p222 accepted this paternalism, for he saw what a power for integration lay in a world-wide mercantile network with Rome as its centre. On one point only he differed from his predecessor, for he was determined that Italy should be on a different plane from the rest of the empire. Economic conditions were to bring this about without any effort on his part, for under his rule Italy sprang into undisputed commercial pre‑eminence,​56 and there was no need to erect tariff walls. During republican times there had been an attempt to protect Italian agriculture by forbidding the production of wine and oil in the provinces,​57 but the experiment was not repeated. The Roman empire began and continued as a free trade area.58

The causes of this economic prosperity were many. Foremost came the Augustan peace, under which, by sea and land, trade could move in security. Another was the rise of the middle classes, the bankers, merchants and industrialists, who had now a major influence in the state. There was the opening up by conquest and annexation of new markets; the spread of Latin as a world tongue; a universal gold and silver currency; the making of new harbours and the improvement of old ones; the steady urbanization of the provinces and the growth of new tastes; a marvellous road system running from Rome to the ends of the earth. The consequence of this activity was that in the Western and Northern provinces Italy had a huge market for her manufactures, and for exports like oil and wine. In the East she was principally a buyer, since countries such as Egypt exported to her not only corn, but a multitude of oriental luxuries, like spices, silks, gems, rare foods and condiments, and manufactured articles of a type beyond her rivalry. The provinces paid their tribute in gold, which explains the eagerness of the poorer West and North to find mines of the precious metals. This gold returned to the East in  p223 payment for oriental merchandise, since the East took little in the way of Italy's products. As Gaul became herself a manufacturing country and developed an export trade of her own, the way was prepared for an adverse balance of trade against Italy, and for the economic complexities of the later empire.

This mercantile intercourse was one of the chief centripetal factors in the empire, a power which automatically held the parts together till the political cement had time to set. The impetus came from Augustus, and his principal contributions were his experiments in the quest of new markets and his elaborate road-making. Like Julius, he was a keen geographer and a lover of maps, and he infected his people with the same passion. The early empire was a heyday of exploration. Be land, communications were always open and notably rapid. There were two great lateral routes, one down the Danube to the Black Sea, and one from the Black Sea across Anatolia to Syria and Egypt; and in every province there was a network of roads following the configuration of the country. Augustus took special charge of the Italian highways, and his legates abroad followed his example, as we know from tablets found everywhere from the Carpathians to the Taurus, and from the Pyrenees to Lebanon. The care of the roads was entrusted to a special commission, with a curator for each of the main roads, and in 20 B.C. a golden milestone was set up in the Forum to mark the spot where all the ways of the world converged. An imperial postal service was also introduced, under which government messages went regularly by relays, though private citizens had still to find their own means of transport. This service was at first a burden upon the communities through which the road ran, a burden which continued until the cost for Italy was transferred to the state under Nerva, and under Septimius Severus for the whole empire.

Augustus desired for Rome, as the heart of the empire, not only political reform, but a moral and religious regeneration. In a later chapter we shall consider the subtler aspects of this work; here we are concerned only  p224 with its embodiment in institutions and laws. The Republic had always possessed a state church, with a recognized list of deities, and a ceremonial which was supervised by public officials. It made no inquisition into a citizen's private beliefs, but as a state it professed a certain creed, of which it required public recognition. It was very ready to accept new worships as supplements, for Rome was immensely tolerant and had no wish to offend any god; but it decided what temples should be permitted inside the city walls, and, after the Punic War, had suppressed the mysteries of Dionysus as a public danger.

Augustus set himself to revive the state religion, the cult of the Olympians, as part of his policy of linking the past and present, and as an instrument in securing the restoration of the old morality. It was in its essence a conventional thing, a guarantee of public decorum, a religion of external observance, and not of fervour or personal holiness — best described, perhaps, by the Greek word eusebeia.​59 As Pontifex Maximus, and so official head of the state church, he put life into the valley of dry bones. The spirit which prompted the celebration of the Ludi Saeculares appears in much of his work. He compelled the Senate to open its meetings with an act of worship — the offering of incense. He gave the Vestal Virgins the official residence of the Pontifex Maximus and increased their prestige and privileges. He prepared a revised edition of the Roman scriptures, the Sibylline Books, and a copy lay for four centuries in Apollo's new temple on the Palatine until it was burned by Stilicho.

In this work Horace was his assiduous helper. We can trace the influence of the poet, too, in the one addition which Augustus made to Roman worship, the cult of the Princeps. This — in Italy, a modest respect paid to his "genius," but elsewhere in the empire a special state religion, and in some parts almost a mystery cult — was more than a political expedient, and will be discussed later in connection with the profounder aspects of his spiritual regeneration.​60 The campaign for moral reform  p225 had also Horace behind it as a vigorous propagandist. It is not likely that Augustus believed that the heart could be purified by outward observance and vice eradicated by statute, but he took the view of the practical statesman that externals count for much, since they sway opinion, and opinion sways fashion, and fashion is reflected in conduct.

In a study of the mind of Augustus the important point is the fact that he undertook this campaign, not the complicated details of his restrictive legislation, from the Julian laws of 17 B.C. to the Lex Papia Poppaea of A.D. 9.​61 He saw that Roman morals were slipping into a perilous state. Peace and security had brought an increase in luxury and raised the standard of living; but, since incomes had not risen proportionately, marriage was at a discount, the birth-rate had fallen, and the idle legacy-hunter courted the celibate and the childless. We have seen how he attempted by statute to regulate the manumission of slaves and limit the freedman class. Following the example of Julius, he passed sumptuary laws restricting the amount spent on banquets and wedding feasts, in the hope of making ostentation vulgar. The Julian laws were directed to the rehabilitation of marriage. They forbade the marriage of senatorians with certain types of women; made divorce less easy; gave the wife more power over her own estate; provided heavy penalties for seduction and adultery; laid severe disabilities on bachelors; and granted substantial privileges to the parents of large families.

Such legislation was bitterly unpopular, especially among the middle classes, but Augustus stuck to his policy, and it was continued, with modifications, for three hundred years. It was, indeed, wholly consistent with Roman tradition and with the best Roman habit of mind.​62 But means of evasion were soon found, and beyond question his laws were in advance of general  p226 public opinion, an opinion which grew laxer as the years passed. Law should be regarded as an elastic tissue which clothes a growing body. That tissue, that garment, must fit exactly; if it is too tight, it will split and there will be lawlessness; if it is too loose, it will impede movement. It should not be too far behind, or too far ahead of, the growth of society, but should, as nearly as possible, coincide with that growth. Augustus's experiments were in advance of Rome's wishes, and though they might remain on the statute-book they suffered the fate of the recent prohibition laws in the United States.

Quid leges sine moribus

vanae proficiunt?​63

Celibacy did not go out of fashion. Horace and Virgil died unmarried, and it was ironically noted that both the consuls who gave their names to the Lex Papia Poppaea were bachelors. Tacitus reports that six years after Augustus's death the laws were a failure in practice,​64 and Tertullian calls them "vanissimae leges."65

Yet the purpose did not wholly fail. Morality by act of parliament is an unattainable ideal, but such acts may do something to create a "climate of opinion." They acted as a brake, though a feeble one, upon one sort of ethical decline. But the true purpose of Augustus was not achieved by his restrictive and penal legislation, but by his positive work in inspiring his people with a new faith and a new outlook on life. In the latter task, as we shall see, he won a notable success.


Italy outside Rome, in the early years of the principate, was perhaps the most fortunate part of the empire, her agriculture flourishing, life and property secure, her ancient cities winning wealth by trade, and the new military colonies rising into cities. Much of her strength lay in that municipal life which Julius had fostered;66  p227 the graffiti on the walls of Pompeii show how vigorous was the popular interest in local government. Augustus also developed a specific Italian tradition by encouraging an old institution, the League of Youth, which trained boys in sport and arms and held regular contests known as the Trojan Games. Italy's well-being was to remain the chief care of succeeding emperors, even of those who were not Italian by birth. Tiberius gave one million pounds out of his own pocket to relieve the agrarian crisis of A.D. 33; Claudius passed a law against absentee landlords and the speculators who turned tillage into pasture; Vespasian stopped Italian recruiting in the interests of agriculture; Domitian and Trajan spent large sums on rural Italy; and Hadrian brought her municipal life under his special supervision. By the third century the great decline had begun, and it is a proof of the soundness of Augustus's judgment that there was no serious weakening of the empire till it decayed at its Italian heart.

The provision for the government of the overseas provinces was the largest and most intricate of the tasks of Augustus. He fell heir to a wise tradition. Rome in her history had never shown any pedantic love of uniformity, and in this respect he was a true Roman. His aim was unity not of letter and of form, but of spirit. He was faced with a remarkable variety of laws and institutions, worships, languages, social habits, economic attitudes and cultural traditions, from the nomads of Africa and the Celtic tribes of Spain and Gaul to those eastern lands which were the debris of Alexander's empire. His policy towards these was much the same as that which Britain had followed in her Asiatic and African possessions. He was respectful to local cults, suppressing only a barbarous practice like Druidism, which had an ugly political connotation. He held aloof from them, refusing when in Egypt to visit the Apis calf, and commending his grandson Gaius for keeping away from the temple at Jerusalem; but he left them to their own devices. Perhaps he interfered too little, for it was not until Hadrian's time that human sacrifices to a Phoenician god were abolished in Africa. From the provinces he asked  p228 nothing except that they should keep the peace among themselves, pay their tribute, and provide recruits for the army. He took no account of racial divisions, and recognized no colour‑bar. He kept local customs intact and accepted local modes of administration; in Africa, for example, he followed the modern British practice of "indirect rule," and left native tribes in charge of their own chieftains. What he sought was unity of sentiment, not an unfeatured uniformity, and he attained it. He found the solution of what is the chief political problem of the modern world, "how communities might live together and yet live their own lives."​67 His methods were to give honest government and an assurance of peace, to inspire in the subject peoples gratitude to and reverence for Rome, and by his institution of the worship of his own Genius to provide a personal object for this attachment. The Gaul who gazed upon the great altar to Rome and Augustus at Lyons, the Asiatic who brought flowers and incense to his shrine at Ephesus, the Egyptian who sacrificed to this new deity as to a member of his own pantheon, saw in him one who fulfilled all the duties of a tutelary god.

We have seen the general scheme of government — the division of the provinces between Senate and Princeps.​68 A province might be transferred to the Princeps from the Senate, and to the Senate from the Princeps, according to the risk of war within its bounds, and the latter had always the right of entry for purposes  p229 of defence. The new system provided for continuity of policy, the careful selection of governors, ample means of getting grievances to headquarters, and, through the imperial procurators, a rigorous supervision of finance. The scandals of the republican regime were now impossible. There were procurators even in the senatorian provinces, so that financial policy was uniform throughout the empire. The Princeps was kept informed about every part, and the governors, conscious of working under his eye, and aware of the career open to merit, had every inducement to be efficient and honest. Taxation was, on the whole, very light; a good shepherd, as Tiberius said, should shear and not skin the sheep.​69 Egypt was a special case. One of the secrets of empire, according to Tacitus,​70 was that the Egypt should have a peculiar status. It was kept as a closed territory, and senators and knights were not allowed to enter it except by permission of the Princeps. For this there were two reasons. It was the principal granary of Rome, feeding the capital for four months in each year, as later it fed Constantinople.​71 Again, in Egypt Augustus was the successor of the divine Ptolemaic kings, and had for the Egyptians a royal authority, which it was desirable to preserve, if the complex social and economic system were to continue; but, since it was an anomaly in the empire, it was necessary to segregate it. Accordingly he governed the country through his own viceroy,​72 and maintained most of its native institutions.73

In provincial administration Augustus followed two purposes — a steady romanization, and a vigilant regard for the traditions of provincial life. The latter was in the end so successful that Rome herself became semi-provincialized, for the senatorian and equestrian orders were full of non‑Romans, provincials commanded legions,​74 and provincial emperors sat on the throne. But not less thorough was the romanizing — by trade, by  p230 government, by the presence of the army, by the emigration of Italians, both as military colonists and as ordinary settlers. Seneca wrote with truth: "Where Rome conquers she makes her dwelling."​75 Part of the success of Augustus was due to his emphasis upon urban life, as shown in the cherishing of old cities and the making of new ones. He thought of the empire as principally a union of city-states. The "civitas," which he recognized as a unit, might in the West be a tribal community, but in the East it was generally a city. Those cities had different relations with the central power, some having special privileges, but all had a modicum of self-government; indeed, without this degree of local autonomy the administration of the empire must have broken down from the sheer weight of the burden on Rome.

There can be little doubt about the vigour of the provincial municipalities; indeed, in prosperous times their members competed with each other in their desire to assume public burdens and to spend lavishly. The lesser units were also grouped in larger organisms, which could give voice to public opinion and influence imperial policy. In the West the "concilia" represented groups of cities and tribes, and formed a kind of local parliament; in the East the old Hellenic koina had the same function. Both began with a religious purpose, to which they gradually added a secular interest. In the East Augustus found the system ready to his hand, but in the West he created it. It was not democratic in the modern sense, for the local senates and councils were in the hands of the local plutocracy, but it at least preserved the idiom of provincial life. "A Roman province," in the words of Goldwyn Smith, "was far above a satrapy, though far below a nation."

Outside the comity of the empire, beyond the border provinces and client-kingdoms, lay the unknown lands and the strange peoples. Every now and then some pressure from afar off drove them up against its battlements. The day of the Roman "limes" or Pale was still distant, when only a mound of earth separated civilization from  p231 savagery; for on most frontiers there was still an extensive no‑man's-land to serve as a buffer. Rome did not suffer from narrow horizons. In the East she looked down the road to India and Cathay; in the South over pathless deserts to a domain of magic and terror; in the North to a land of mists and snows and infinite forests; and West, beyond the Pillars of Hercules, to the fairyland of the poets where the Hesperides drowsed in a shoreless ocean.


To recapitulate briefly. — The foundations were the overriding power of the Princeps, a power drawn from the People, revocable in theory, but irrevocable in practice — a power, according to the plan of Augustus, to be shared by each holder of the office with a vicegerent who would be ipso facto his successor. This power was executive, legislative and judicial, but principally the first. It rested in law upon a popular gift, but in fact upon the command of the army and a personal "auctoritas" which was fortified by the cult of his Genius. His prerogatives were shared with the Senate and the regular magistrates, who were encouraged in their duties, but the Princeps had, in all important matters, the ultimate say. The provinces were divided for actual administrative purposes, but the Princeps had a great right of supervision over all. His salaried bureaucracy was the executive both in Rome and abroad, and it drew its members largely from the middle classes. The constitution was strictly an unwritten one, and was avowedly subject to revision in the light of new developments.

This vast fabric was the work of one mind. Augustus drew upon tradition and used existing institutions, but that he modified and these he transformed, and he added much that was new. His additions were effected so patiently and obliquely that they met with little criticism, even from the most conservative. He achieved not only a formal, but a spiritual unity. He provided a system of  p232 defence which lasted for centuries, till the barbarians from the North and the Persians from the East broke in on its bounds. Moreover, though we may call it a "perverted republic,"​76 it was in the main a commonwealth, and neither satrapy nor kingdom. He provided in his bureaucracy, and in the universal reverence for Rome, a mortar which held the walls together when the storm broke, and did not yield till the hurricane became an earthquake.

I have purposely tried to present the work of Augustus as a practical solution of a number of urgent problems. It would be easy to clothe it in the language of a later constitutionalism, and to show how unorthodox was the blend of executive responsibility, legislative power and financial control. Easy, but futile; for these conceptions have a long history behind them, which has given them, for us, a special atmosphere, and they were not present in their modern dogmatic form to the Roman mind. The ancient world had its own complexities, but it was not, like ours, heavily overlaid with the debris of speculative systems. The Augustan construction was the linking together in one polity of a set of solutions forced upon a most practical mind by the stern compulsion of facts.

As we study it, the defects are patent, and it is not likely that they escaped its maker's candid eyes. In all nation-building there is an element of garbling and the architect must take his chance. Too much was laid upon the Princeps, and the system assumed for its continuance a race of men of the first quality, if not of demigods. The partner­ship with the Senate was soon to break down, and the immense load of business to fall on the shoulders of the Princeps alone. The last watchword of Septimius Severus was "Laboremus."​77 "An emperor must perish standing," said the dying Vespasian. The mere volume of work was enough to crush the most diligent of rulers and depress the most vital. Only the bureaucracy saved the situation when the Princeps was a fool or a debauchee. Again, there was no provision for that  p233 change, without which according to Burke a constitution has no means of self-preservation, save the will of the Princeps, and the caprice of one man is an imperfect means of evolution. Again, the Princeps had nothing between him and the people, when the Senate ceased to be of weight, nothing to take the shock of popular criticism or be a guide to popular feeling. The only buffer was the bureaucracy, and that was not enough. To this lack of touch with ordinary opinion and ordinary conditions of life was due the ultimate downfall. Even a conscientious emperor was unaware of the decline of quality in his people and the growing economic confusion, and when the throne passed to rude soldiers from the frontier the end was not far off. "Seldom did one of them comprehend even the elementary social and economic needs of the Empire, and none were remotely aware of the traditions that had made Rome powerful. Their simple task was to hold the Empire together by force so as to keep intact the taxing machinery which enabled them to pay for that force. When this system wasted the resources, weakened the machinery of production and distribution, and, by the institution of serfdom, incapacitated the citizenry of the Empire for army service, the dull emperors hired German mercenaries to protect the frontier, until those mercenaries took over as their own the Empire which they were paid to guard."​78 Finally, Augustus erred in his estimate of his "auctoritas." Great as that was, it could not be indefinitely transmitted.

Yet it was transmitted for very long. The restoration of unity by Aurelian postponed for more than a century the final collapse, and his restoration was on Augustan lines. For three hundred years every wise emperor invoked the name of Augustus and thereby won popular assent for his regime. It is as if the government of modern Britain were still under the shadow of Oliver Cromwell, or the French polity of to‑day inspired by the creed of Richelieu. The more we study the making of the principate, the more we shall be impressed with the  p234 grasp and insight of its founder. It was a far greater and more intricate task than the Napoleonic reconstruction of France, and it may well rank among the foremost political achievements of the human genius.

The Author's Notes:

1 LII.16.

2 Tac. Hist. I.16.

3 Pliny Pan. II.24; Dio Chrys. Or. I.22, III.48.

4 Augustus's views on the hereditary principle may be gathered from his letters in Suet. Tib. 21 and Aul. Gell. XV.7.

5 Livy, Epit. 98.

6 Mon. Anc. II.1‑11.

7 This seems to be implied by the tone of the third of the Cyrene Edicts.

8 Suet. Div. Aug. 40.

9 Dio LVI.33.

10 Tac. Ann. XI.25.

11 Med. III.12.

12 Cf. Seneca, Ep. XLVII.1, 1318; Pliny Ep. II.17, VII.16; Mart. III.1.

13 See the story of Pollio's dinner party in Dio LIV.23.

14 Seneca, Nat. Quaest. I.16.

15 Cf. the account of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, IV.23 sqq.

16 lex Junia. I accept Prof. H. Last's view as to the date, C. A. H. X, note 9. It was repealed by Justinian, for it had served its purpose.

17 lex Fufia Caninia.

18 lex Aelia Sentia.

19 Tenney Frank, Econ. Hist. of Rome, 332.

20 See Kuhn, de opificum Romanorum conditione (1910).

21 Julius had limited it to 150,000, with a means test (Suet. Div. Jul. 41); Augustus raised it to 200,000 (Mon. Anc. III.19‑21).

22 The value of such money gifts (congiaria) is obvious, for they might enable a decent citizen to rise permanently above subsistence level.

23 In the third century, under Severus Alexander, all industries were incorporated in licensed guilds.

24 Anson, Law and Custom of the Constitution, II.1.269.

25 Vell. II.99.

26 Suet. Div. Aug. 46. See Gardthausen, II.315, for an interesting suggested emendation of the text of Suetonius.

27 The nearest approach to it is found in local government in the provinces under the empire.

28 Tac. Ann. I.15. Velleius (II.124) says that this was done on the instructions of Augustus.

29 Cf. the rioting on behalf of Julia and the family of Germanicus and against Tiberius, Sejanus and Nero.

30 Juvenal (I.106) mentions a Corvinus who was a labourer on a sheep-farm, and in A.D. 58 a Valerius Messalla was granted £5000 to lift him out of "blameless poverty."

31 ὁμότιμοι is Dio's word.

32 Dio LIV.12; LV.34. Suet. Div. Aug. 53.

33 Dio LIII.33, LV.33; Josephus, Ant. XVII.229.

34 Cf. Greenidge, op. cit., 381. "The Romans had lived for centuries mainly under the rule of interpreted or judge-made law, and now the Roman world, enlarged and unified, looked for guidance not to the "comitia," which were in decay, or to the Senate, whose contact with the provinces was ever becoming less, but to the one interpreter who was known to every judge and every litigant, and whose utterance could be heard at the furthest ends of the earth. It was the force of circumstances, not any constitutional theory, which made the Princeps the highest of all legislative, because the greatest of all interpreting authorities."

35 See p147 supra.

36 Josephus (Ant. XVI.6) cites an edict of Augustus beginning, "It seems good to me and my councillors"; cf. also Dio LVI.28.

37 ἡ σύγκλητος καὶ ἐγώἐγὼ τε καὶ ἡ σύγκλητος.

38 Dio LIV.26; LV.24.

39 Ann. XI.5.

40 Caligula invited two consuls to dinner and suddenly broke into guffaws. When asked why, he replied that he had only to give the signal to have them both strangled. Suet. Gaius 32.

41 C. A. H. X.199.

42 "cui par est nihil et nihil secundum." Mart. XII.8.

43 Suetonius was for a time Hadrian's secretary-general.

44 Decline and Fall (ed. Bury), I.78.

45 "genius portorii publici."

46 On the difficult question of the "fiscus" under Augustus see Vell. II.39; Suet. Div. Aug. 101; Momms. Staatsr., II.998; Hirschfeld, Die Kaiserlichen Verwaltungsbeamten, 1‑52; Mattingly, The Imperial Civil Service, 14 sqq.; E. Meyer, Kleine Schriften, I.461; Hammond, The Augustan Principate, 317‑18. It is not possible to arrive at any exact estimate of the imperial revenues; cf. Arnold, Rom. Prov. Administration, 211. Augustus left to his heirs a private fortune of about a million and a half pounds, only one‑sixth of what he had received in legacies, and to the army and people just under a million. He was probably no richer a man than Crassus under the Republic, and he died poorer than he began. See Tenney Frank, J. R. S. (1933), XXIII.143‑8.º

47 Ravenna at that time was situated on a network of lagoons connected with the sea; it is now four miles inland. There was a third minor naval base at Fréjus to protect the western trade-routes.

48 As early as Tiberius the non‑Italian element was the strongest part of the army. Tac. Ann. III.40.

49 The disposition of the legions at Augustus's death seems to have been somewhat as follows: one in Africa, two in Egypt, four in Syria, seven in the Danube area, eight on the Rhine, and three in Spain. A legion, with its auxiliary troops, was roughly the equivalent of the modern division. On the whole question of the legions under Augustus, see R. Syme in J. R. S. (1932), XXII; Ritterling, in Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. "legio," and Parker, The Roman Legions (1928).

50 Cf. for the beginning of Tiberius's rule, Tac. Ann. I.16‑30; Dio LVII.4; Vell. II.125.

51 Cf. Greenidge, op. cit., 381, quoted on p210 supra.

52 Pliny N. H. XXXIII.1; Suet. Div. Aug. 32.

53 Gaius, Inst. II.279; IV.104.

54 Suet. Div. Aug. 56; Dio LIV.3.

55 This is clear from the Cyrene Edicts, which reversed the practice of the old lex Rupilia (Cic. in Verr. II.13).

56 Rostovtzeff, Soc. and Econ. History. of Rom. Emp., 74.

57 e.g. in southern Gaul. Cic. de Rep. III.9.

58 It was unnecessary to protect Italian agriculture against the importation of grain from Egypt and elsewhere, for by the time such grain arrived in Rome the cost of freight had raised its price above that of the home-grown product.

59 See Nock, Conversion, 10.

60 See p271 infra.

61 The subject is fully discussed in C. A. H. X, ch. 14, and Ferrero, V, ch. 3.

62 It was apparently criticized by the conservative lawyer, Antistius Labeo, as a departure from tradition; Aul. Gell. XIII.12, quoted by Ferrero, V.64 n.

63 Hor. Od. III.24.35.

64 Ann. III.25.

65 Apol. IV.

66 by the lex Julia municipalis. C. I. L. I.120.

67 C. A. H. XI.853.

68 At the end of the life of Augustus the allocation was as follows (Arnold, Rom. Prov. Admin., 278‑9):

1. Under consular proconsul: Asia, Africa.
2. Under praetorian proconsul: Sicily, Baetica, Gallia Narbonensis, Macedonia, Achaia, Bithynia, Pontus, Cyprus, Crete with Cyrene.
1. Under consular legati: Hispania Tarraconensis, Pannonia, Dalmatia, Moesia, Syria.
2. Under praetorian legati: Lusitania, Aquitania, Gallia Lugdunensis, Gallia Belgica, Galatia.
3. Under procurator: Rhaetia, Alpes Maritimae, Noricum, Sardinia, Judaea, Cilicia.
4. Under prefect: Egypt.

69 Suet. Tib. 32.

70 Ann. I.59.

71 Pliny Pan. 31.

72 Though a knight, the viceroy of Egypt had the imperium of a proconsul. Ulpian I.17.

73 See M. A. Levi in Aegypt. (1924), V.231‑5.

74 Cf.  Tac. Hist. IV.74.

75 Cons. ad Helviam VII.7.

76 Greenidge, op. cit., viii.

77 S. H. A. (Severus), 23.

78 Tenney Frank, Econ. Hist. of Rome, 511.

Thayer's Note:

a Dio explains this very clearly, XXXVII.28.

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